Lifestyle & Belief

Growing up in India, I never met an openly gay person

This story is a part of

Human Needs

This story is a part of

Human Needs

Gay in India 2_Crop.jpg

Gay rights activists wave flags and shout slogans as they attend a protest against a verdict by the Supreme Court in New Delhi December 11, 2013.

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REUTERS/Anindito Mukherjee

India’s Supreme Court on Wednesday issued a ruling that makes gay sex a criminal offense once again, four years after a lower court struck down the ban.

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Growing up in India, I never met an openly gay person. I went to an all-boys school and my high school was known as home to the rowdiest boys in the city. Cutting class, picking fights, chasing girls — that's what came to mind when people found out where I went to school.

Boys with slightly less 'manly' voices or with gaits that resembled a girl's got teased until they dropped out. But no one was ever called gay or homosexual. That was because no one there knew what homosexuality was.

At least, I didn’t. The idea that a man would not be interested in girls was unthinkable. How could that be possible? We thought, if you are not a man, you’ve got to be a woman. If you’re not a woman, you have to be a man.

And if you were neither, there was only one other thing we thought you could be — a hijra. Hijras, who are called eunuchs, or sometimes transgender in English, are often perceived as a third sex in India. They’re considered male at birth, but identify as women.

The first time I encountered an openly gay person was when I moved to the United States. My first boss, in Virginia, was a great manager. She taught me many things and I sought her help every time I needed a problem solved. She often referred to one of her female friends as her husband, but I could never understand what she meant and laughed it off.

Once, at a party at her home, she gave me a tour of the house and showed me her bedroom. She said, "This is where I sleep with my husband," meaning her female friend. She looked at my confused face and laughed uncontrollably. I don’t know if she knew that I didn’t understand what she was trying to tell me.

Since then, I have worked with wonderful people of different sexual orientations. I have asked them stupid questions and they have happily answered me. I have learned a lot from them and a lot about them, and I'm very fortunate I got the chance to do so.

Wednesday morning, I found out the Indian Supreme Court reinstated a law dating to the British colonial period that makes gay sex a crime. I don’t know how I would have felt about this decision a decade ago, but today my heart grieves to hear the news.